Theses Doctoral

Philosophy as the Art of Living in Higher Education: A Proposal and Examination of College-Level Philosophical Exercises

Rizopoulos, Perry

COVID-19 exacerbated a pre-existing and well-documented mental health crisis on college campuses in the United States. During COVID-19, more college students than ever before in recorded history reported feelings of anxiety and depression, among other mental health issues. There are myriad possible causes for the decline in mental health among college students. One clear cause is the introduction of the smartphone, its widespread adoption, and its frequent use by college-age people. Research also revealed that an unprecedented number of college students are completely disconnected from religion and spirituality. Studies demonstrated that cultivating a religious or spiritual life can be beneficial for one’s mental well-being. The efforts on college campuses to provide mental health resources for students would benefit from additional support. This care should be accessible to more students and should combat the unfortunate stigma around receiving help for mental health.

Undergraduate introductory philosophy courses taken as a requirement by various majors can serve as responses to this call for additional care. These classes are inherently accessible and can offer students an engaging experience with self-care by implementing exercises inspired by philosophy as the art of living. Although philosophy as the art of living does not necessarily have to replace religion or other forms of mental health care, it can offer an experience that is of therapeutic value in the classroom. This tradition has a rich, ancient history of intending to serve this purpose.

The objective of this research was to present and examine self-care exercises from philosophy as the art of living and to evaluate how these can be taught in the college classroom in response to the mental health crisis on college campuses. It also aimed to render the experience of teaching these exercises. The research was executed through a hermeneutical and phenomenological approach. The phenomenological methodology was performed by a teacher in the form of a self-study. It was also conducted with the teacher as a witness to what transpired in introductory philosophy classes with thousands of students in dozens of individual classes in a diverse metropolis.

A college introductory philosophy course in this epoch of mental health crisis on campuses should abide by philosophy as the art of living’s imperative to decrease suffering. There is a vital need for additional resources to respond to the decline in mental wellness among students. The results of this research demonstrated that philosophy as the art of living and its emphasis on exercises can be successfully applied to the college classroom. In this research, students were given time on a regular basis during class to be in silence, confront Socratic-style questions that encouraged them to examine and care for themselves, practice self-writing to heighten their ability to think and pursue the aim of self-care, and then read to engage with philosophical texts to support their self-care.
Students consistently and rigorously engaged with these exercises. Their time spent in silent practice provided an opportunity for therapeutic, meditative, and peaceful reflection.

Educators should consider implementing these exercises in introductory philosophy classes and beyond as ways to offer self-care to students who may be struggling with their mental health, as so many are.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Interdisciplinary Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Leichter, Hope
Laverty, Megan
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 28, 2024